July 26, 2019

Inspired Catholics bring HEART work camps to central and southern Indiana

Catholic HEART Workcamp participants Felicia Samuels, left, and Sarah Pottorff, both of West Dundee, Ill., perform dance moves with a resident of the Little Sisters of the Poor’s St. Augustine Home for the Aged in Indianapolis on June 11. (Photo by Sean Gallagher)

Catholic HEART Workcamp participants Felicia Samuels, left, and Sarah Pottorff, both of West Dundee, Ill., perform dance moves with a resident of the Little Sisters of the Poor’s St. Augustine Home for the Aged in Indianapolis on June 11. (Photo by Sean Gallagher)

Second in a two-part series

By Natalie Hoefer

Craig Gelhausen says that from the first time he participated in a Catholic HEART Workcamp (CHWC) in Jackson, Miss., as a youth, “I just fell in love with helping people and getting to know people from around the country.”

Jami Ogle recalls her own first CHWC in New Orleans, La., as being an “amazing experience.”

Each was so impacted by the service-oriented, faith-developing program that they established work camps in their local areas: Ogle in the New Albany/Louisville region in 2004, and Gelhausen in Indianapolis this year, with the help of Carley Haselhorst.

As a result, 175 participants from three states helped at service organizations in Indianapolis on June 9-15. The next week, 278 campers from nine states descended on the New Albany/Louisville area to do the same.

The stories of how each camp was established bear several similarities, from being inspired by personal experience with CHWC to desiring to establish CHWC sites locally, and even to the ringing of wedding bells.

‘Passion for faith, love of service’

Ogle was in her early 20s when she first experienced CHWC.

Her mother, Tammy Becht, was the youth minister for St. Mary-of-the-Knobs Parish in Floyd County at the time. Ogle joined as a young adult helper when her mother took the group to a Catholic HEART work camp in New Orleans, La.

“It was an amazing experience,” says Ogle. “Mom and I talked about how awesome it would be to bring it [to southern Indiana].”

They met with CHWC founder Steve Walker to discuss the idea. He approved, and Becht and Ogle operated their first Catholic HEART work camp in 2004.

Although it is officially called the “Louisville” work camp, its home base is just outside of New Albany in Georgetown at Highland Hills Middle School, which Ogle says “has welcomed us with open arms every year for 15 years and really embraced what we do.”

Many of the service organizations where the campers help are located in and around New Albany, including St. Elizabeth Catholic Charities in New Albany, Guerin Woods in Georgetown, and Mount St. Francis Center for Spirituality in Mt. St. Francis.

Ogle helped her mother direct the camp again in 2005. That year, they ran into a small problem.

“We divide the youth groups into teams with five to six kids with one adult,” she explains. “We ran out of adults, so we had to look at our young adult leaders.

“We looked at the oldest young adult we had. Mom said, ‘Put this guy on the team, and if you don’t think he can handle it, we’ll swap him out.’

“That ‘guy’ is now my husband.”

Jami, 38, and Andrew, 35, now have three children and are members of

St. Mary-of-the-Knobs Parish. She is an information technology manager for Humana, and he works in facilities management at the University of Louisville.

For 12 years, they helped during camp week. But Ogle notes that for their “entire married life, we talked about how awesome [CHWC] was and how we wanted to get more involved in it again,” says Jami.

Last year, Jami once again became manager of the camp, with Andrew serving as “my emotional support, my rock and my trouble shooter,” she says. “He can do anything—plumbing, electricity. He helps teams organize what to do and how to do it.”

Being a camp manager is an involved task, says Ogle.

“I probably spend about eight hours a week [on CHWC] from January through camp time. Then three weeks before the camp, I live, eat and sleep it,” she explains. “It probably comes to about 800 hours of work a year.”

While camp managers do get paid a small stipend, “I would say it’s largely volunteer,” she says. “One year, it came to less than $1 an hour.”

But Ogle says she loves CHWC and its mission. And so do the local organizations helped by the campers.

St. Elizabeth Catholic Charities has served as a work site since the camp started in the area 15 years ago.

“Each year they donate about $12,000 in labor,” says Mark Casper, the agency’s director. “Projects we couldn’t afford to fund each year get done because of their efforts. And they pay to come serve!

“They are the hardest working volunteers,” he adds, crediting the 2017 workers with “literally building our Holy Trinity Park” by planting 900 plants and flowers.

“These kids are just great, and the adults who work with them,” says Casper. “They make me have positive thoughts about America’s future.”

Ogle says the CHWC mission to develop service-oriented, faith-filled Catholics is met every year.

“They walk away with a passion for their faith, a love of service, and just a desire to unapologetically live their faith,” she says. “Plus some blisters.”

‘An amazing thing to be part of’

Gelhausen’s first experience with CHWC as a youth drew him back again and again.

“I owe a lot to Catholic HEART,” he says. “If I didn’t have Catholic HEART, my life would be completely different.”

Overall, the native of Ireland, Ind., in the Evansville diocese, paid to participate in three work camps.

But from 2011-2013, CHWC paid him.

Gelhausen, 29, was a college student at Marian University in Indianapolis at the time. CHWC served as a summer job. He traveled with a team from camp to camp around the country, planning meals and organizing tools and other supplies.

He was excited to work with an organization that, “from the first time” he participated, “I just fell in love with it.”

The organization isn’t all Gelhausen fell in love with. While working for CHWC during the summers, he met Katie, a fellow staff member. He and Katie are now married with a young child.

While still a college student at Marian, Gelhausen was active with service projects.

“I saw lots of opportunities for service in Indy and thought Catholic HEART would work well here,” he says.

For the last three years, he has worked as coordinator of youth ministry at St. Pius X Parish in Indianapolis. As a youth minister, he started taking parish groups to CHWC work camps.

Haselhorst, coordinator of young adult ministry for the parish, had also taken youth groups to participate in camps at a prior parish.

“When we found out that Indianapolis didn’t have a [CHWC] camp, we thought there were plenty of people to help, plenty of things to do, and that it’d be neat if we could arrange to host one,” she says.

The two didn’t just think—they acted. They contacted the CHWC about establishing a camp in Indianapolis, and the organization agreed.

“I am pumped,” says Gelhausen. “Ever since I left the staff, all I wanted to do was to try to create a camp in Indianapolis.”

What made the reality sweeter was having St. Pius X Parish agree to host the campers in its school.

“It raises the bar a little bit for St. Pius,” Gelhausen says. “We’re a serving, outreach community that’s welcoming of all people. This just falls into what most people would describe St. Pius as. It’s a welcoming community that would do anything for anyone.”

And so they did, says Haselhorst. She says parishioners made meals for work camp staff members, greeted campers and helped with setup and tear-down of the camp site.

“It’s energizing for the parish and maybe especially for the older parishioners to see so many young people show up on our campus, coming from other states to do service work in our city,” says Haselhorst.

It was energizing, too, for the residents of the Little Sisters of the Poor’s St. Augustine Home for the Aged on the northwest side of Indianapolis. It was one of the many places where a team of CHWC participants served during the camp.

“It’s very uplifting,” says St. Augustine Home resident Eileen Cassidy of having the participants visit. “It’s wonderful. It keeps your spirit alive. And I think it’s good for them, too.”

Carson Scarnegie agrees. The soon‑to-be college freshman traveled from West Dundee, Ill., to take part in the Indianapolis camp—his fourth CHWC experience. He took a break while serving at the St. Augustine Home to comment on the program and the Indianapolis camp.

“Meeting a bunch of people from different parishes who all share a common belief is incredible,” he says. “You make so many new friends. It’s definitely a crucial part of the whole experience.

“And everyone here is so friendly to us. They’re really making us feel like we’re at home. It just helps with the whole experience.”

Scarnegie says he appreciates the opportunity the work camps provide “to connect people together and bring us under God together.”

But what has particularly drawn him back each year is “the feeling you get from doing the service work,” he says. “It’s a humbling experience and helps you look at life from a different perspective. You see things from another person’s eyes.

“It’s an amazing thing to be a part of.”
 

(Sean Gallagher contributed to this story. For the first part in this series, visit www.CriterionOnline.com)

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